At Overwatch Animal Hospital, we often see dogs with "hot spots" or allergic dermatitis (also called atopic dermatitis). Dogs often develop these skin conditions when they are exposed to an allergen. In this post, our Clarksville vets discuss ways you can recognize the different types of allergic dermatitis in dogs and how they are treated.

Allergies in Dogs

Dogs with allergies often experience skin reactions or gastrointestinal symptoms, while humans usually have nasal symptoms and hives. Dogs have a higher concentration of mast cells in their skin. These cells release histamines and other vasoactive substances when they come into contact with allergens. When dogs experience this, they may show symptoms like hot spots, itching and scratching, poor coat condition, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain/discomfort, and flatulence. If your dog has thyroid disease, their condition may worsen.

When dogs have allergic dermatitis or atopic (atopy) dermatitis, they have an inherited predisposition to develop allergy symptoms to a usually harmless substance (allergen) that they are repeatedly exposed to.  Most of the time dogs start developing signs of having allergies when they are between 1 and 3 years old. Because this condition is hereditary it's seen more often in golden retrievers, Irish setters, bulldogs, most terriers, and Old English sheepdogs, however, all dogs, including mixed breeds can develop allergic dermatitis.

Common Types of Allergies in Dogs

Below we have listed some of the most common allergies in dogs:

Food Allergies

It is possible for your dog to develop an allergy to the same brand of food, even after eating it for months. Whether they choose the cheapest brand or the highest-quality brand, consuming any ingredient they are allergic to will result in the development of symptoms. In contrast, premium dog foods may have fewer filler ingredients, potentially reducing the risk of allergies.

Flea Allergies

Dogs develop allergic reactions when fleas bite them due to a protein in the flea's saliva, rather than the flea itself. Dogs that experience occasional exposure to fleas are more prone to developing symptoms compared to dogs that have constant exposure to these external parasites.

Contact & Inhalant Allergies

Just like humans, dogs can develop allergies to mold, pollen, trees, weeds, and dust mites. Take note of the timing of the symptoms to identify the specific allergen affecting your dog. Pollen could be the culprit if your dog's symptoms are seasonal, but if they persist throughout the year, it's possible that they are allergic to mold.

Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity

Dogs develop bacterial hypersensitivity when their immune system overreacts to the normal Staphylococcus (Staph) bacteria on their skin. Microscopic changes occur in the blood vessels of a dog's skin when they have bacterial hypersensitivity. Your veterinarian can diagnose this condition by examining a bacterial culture and biopsy sample.

Dogs that already have other conditions such as hypothyroidism, an inhalant allergy, and/or a flea allergy are more likely to develop bacterial hypersensitivity.

Diagnosing Dogs With Allergic Dermatitis

Conducting an allergy test is the most reliable method for diagnosing allergies in dogs, and there are various types of tests available for this purpose. A blood test is commonly used to detect antigen-induced antibodies in a dog's blood.

Additionally, intradermal skin testing entails the removal of a small portion of a dog's skin to administer a minimal amount of antigen. The skin is examined for a small raised reaction to identify the allergens after a certain period of time.

Once your dog has been diagnosed with an allergy, your vet will start developing a treatment plan.

Treatment for Dogs With Skin Allergies

The specific treatment used for your dog's allergy will be determined by the specific allergen causing their symptoms. Your pup's treatment could consist of one or more of the following:

  • Immunotherapy (hypo-sensitization) can also be referred to as allergy shots. Hypersensitizing injections are specially manufactured for your dog's specific allergy in a lab and are given to your pup on a regular basis (frequency depends on your dog's specific case). While this method is often highly successful, it can take 6 to 12 months for there to be any visible improvement. 
  • Medicated baths with shampoos containing antimicrobial and antifungal agents as well as other ingredients can help soothe a dog's injured skin, reduce inflammation, and remove allergens.
  • Flea control regimes can help prevent and get rid of fleas. To keep fleas from thriving on your pet, your vet may recommend giving your dog flea medications.
  • Antihistamines might be able to help control your dog's symptoms, however, they don't always work. On the other hand, if antihistamines are effective, this is could be an affordable option that typically has a very low risk of side effects.
  • Hypoallergenic diets can either remove, replace, or reduce the food ingredient your dog is allergic to.
  • Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive agents should be used as a last resort to manage a dog's itching and scratching when the allergy season is short or to relieve extreme discomfort (and in small quantities). This method may result in increased urination, increased thirst and appetite, skin jaundice, and behavioral changes. Long-term use of this method may result in diabetes or decreased resistance to infection.
  • Controlling your dog's environment could be the best way to manage your dog's allergy if you are aware of the allergen and are able to remove it or minimize your dog's exposure to it effectively. Even if your pooch is on another medication, it is still best to reduce their exposure to the allergen if possible.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of allergic dermatitis, contact our Clarksville vets today and schedule an appointment.